Illustration of items from inside a home (TV, plant, couch, slippers, takeout container) drawn to look like a map, with a compass rose
Illustration by Hunter French
Health

How to Have an Actually Enjoyable Staycation

Set a theme. Delete social media. Get a cute souvenir.
September 15, 2020, 11:00am
howtostayin
How to Stay In is a series about redefining "normal" life in order to take care of ourselves and one another during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Staycations, as a concept, often get a bad rap. And sure, I can very much understand why taking precious PTO to just… stay home... doesn’t exactly scream rejuvenation. But how else are we supposed to find that post-vacation emotional-glow at a time when going away isn’t necessarily possible, safe, or exactly enticing? To make your time off feel more fun and nourishing than a regular relaxing-ish weekend, it’s important to act with intention and make a game plan that will help you do something that actually feels different

If you’re lucky enough to have some unused time off, here’s how to make your days at home feel just as memorable as a pre-pandemic vacation.

Get all your chores and errands finished before your staycation officially begins.

Everyone who’s ever deep cleaned their fridge or tried to pick up a package from the post office on their lunch break knows just how easily “quick” chores and errands can eat up an entire afternoon. While it makes sense in theory to save all your annoying to-dos for your days off, when you can get shit done without the interruption of Slack pings, replacing your work-work with housework isn’t a great way to recuperate. 

To protect your precious vacation hours, aim to get all your necessary tasks done before your staycation kicks off. If you’re going to be cooking while you’re at home, do your grocery shopping ahead of time. Put a set of fresh sheets on your bed, and put the dirty ones in the laundry (not in a pile in the corner). If you have a time-intensive hair-washing, shaving, or manicure routine you enjoy before regular vacation, make time to do that too. Essentially, do everything you can to set yourself up for the most relaxing time possible.

Consider what you love most about vacations, and then try your best to replicate it.

With the exception of “my single favorite part of vacation is physically leaving my apartment,” many of the things we love about holidaying can be loosely replicated in some way inside our own homes. Personally, my favorite thing about traveling is eating good food—which is an easy one to replicate by ordering takeout that’s a little more special than what I’d normally order, or by cooking a recipe that involves buying a fancy-ish ingredient.

For you, replicating your own vacation joy might involve taking a virtual tour of a museum, scheduling a long video call with a long-distance friend you love visiting, or giving yourself an at-home facial in place of the spa treatment you might have gotten if you were staying in a hotel. By pinpointing the thing you love most about travel and time off, you can better capture the sense of novelty that a trip brings, and you’re a lot more likely to end your staycation feeling like you actually did something. 

Set one—or multiple—staycation themes and lean into them hard.

Perhaps you, like me, were meant to be going to Italy for the first time this year. Or, maybe you were planning to go snowboarding, or surfing, or whiskey-tasting. While you might not be able to do any of these things (see you in 2024, Sicily) you can likely find tiny ways to incorporate them into your staycation.

Set a theme for your vacation—like après-ski, bougie wellness retreat, or lakehouse—and go all in. I’m talking decorations, on-theme food, a soundtrack (10 hours of ambient New York street noise, anyone?), a dress code... basically, anything that helps set the tone for your days off. IMHO, the more you ham it up, the better. 

Find a way to make your space feel a bit different than it does every other day of the year.

After six months of staying home, it’s normal to start hating your place and everything inside it a little... or, you know, a lot. A simple way to make your home feel a bit more enticing is to quite literally mix! it! up!

This might mean putting a blow-up mattress in your living room and camping there for a night or two. It might mean moving your dining chairs onto your balcony (or just near an open window) and eating al fresco. Or it might involve a full rearranging of furniture. I’m always genuinely shocked by how different a space can feel after a few things are shifted around—just make sure to make your changes the evening before your staycation begins, as furniture moving definitely counts as a chore and not a staycation activity.

Make yourself an itinerary or a staycation to-do list, and stick to it.

Even if you’re someone who loves the spontaneity of an unstructured vacation, consider making yourself an itinerary. While planning out your day might not seem like the most obvious method of channeling good vacation vibes, it’s the best way to ensure you don’t accidentally slip off course and waste your time off doing the same mundane activities you’ve been doing every day since the pandemic began.

Your staycation itinerary doesn’t have to involve scheduling your days down to the hour (though, look, I wouldn’t be against it); it can simply be a list of things you want to do each day you’re off work. Even if it’s just “rewatch Season 1 of Succession, practice guitar, make a negroni,” it’s a guaranteed way to finish your time off with receipts that you actually did things you enjoy.

If possible, give yourself a vacation budget that allows you to do and buy a few things you wouldn’t normally.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of assuming staycations shouldn’t cost you anything, even if you’re someone who regularly spends a substantial amount of money on travel. Setting aside some cash for your staycation—to spend on an online class, a new outfit, or the rental of a new release you might have normally gone to see at a cinema—is a way to give yourself permission to invest in having a good time, and alleviate the guilt of spending money “to just stay home.”

Extend your “out of office” message to your friends and family.

While the benefits of letting your friends and family know you’re going to be “out of office” might not be quite as obvious as the perks of your work email auto-reply, they are just as valuable (if not more). Whether your mom calls you over lunch most days just to say hi or you have a friend who likes to offload on you over text every evening, letting people in your life know that you may be slow to respond, or totally offline, for a couple of days will give you space to truly unwind, just as you might if you were on vacation somewhere without cell reception. 

Instead of copying your work auto-reply word for word, you can simply let your people know that you’re taking a few days off work to chill out, and you want to try cut down on your screen time, so you’ll likely get back to non-urgent calls and texts in a couple of days. Most people will be understanding and, now that you’ve put the idea in their head, might even do the same at some point. By the way, telling other people to respect your OOO message is good, but make sure you’re honoring it yourself. This might mean turning off  email notifications, putting your phone in airplane mode throughout the day, or deleting any social media apps that fry your brain to a crisp.

Find a way to remember your staycation.

Every time I travel somewhere particularly memorable, I buy my mom a fridge magnet. And every time I walk into a souvenir shop to buy that aforementioned magnet, I end up finding something else—a sweatshirt, puzzle, mug—that’s the perfect amount of kitsch to convince me to purchase it. Whether you’re a souvenir person, a travel journal person, or a I-love-taking-a-million-photos person, one tiny but impactful way to give your staycation the respect it deserves is to treat it like any other vacation, and do something special to help you remember it.

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